|European Champions Cup semi-final: Leinster v Toulouse|
|Leinster (17) 30|
|Tries: Lowe, McGrath, Fardy Pens: Sexton 2 Cons: Sexton 3|
|Toulouse (6) 12|
|Pens: Ramos 4|
Defending champions Leinster will face Saracens in the Champions Cup final after grinding down fellow four-time winners Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium.
James Lowe’s smart finish and Luke McGrath’s drive over gave Leinster a deserved 11-point lead at the break.
Thomas Ramos’ boot briefly brought Toulouse back within range, but Scott Fardy burrowed over to convert a spell of second-half pressure.
An increasingly desperate Toulouse rarely threatened a comeback.
Leinster will be aiming to become the first team in the competition to lift the trophy for a fifth time in the 11 May showpiece.
Their trademark efficiency and accuracy was on full display as their well-oiled gameplan nullified Toulouse’s power and creativity.
But it would be wrong to credit only the collective strength of Leo Cullen’s side.
Prop Cian Healy and London Irish-bound flanker Sean O’Brien showed fine individual skill as their crisp hands helped spring Lowe for the first try on 14 minutes.
With Toulouse second row Richie Gray sin-binned for a cynical knock-on at the base of a ruck, Leinster exploited their man advantage with a mammoth driven maul from which McGrath emerged with the ball and score.
The home side’s defence was equally well-judged. Robbie Henshaw’s knock-on under his own post earned him a yellow card of his own, but averted a likely try with Charlie Faumuina poised to thunder into contact.
When Fardy, a late replacement in the starting line-up for Rhys Ruddock, barged over Toulouse’s realistic hopes were snuffed out.
The showdown against Saracens, who have made serene progress to the final after a quarter-final defeat by Leinster last year, promises to be a intriguing clash.
Toulouse set up to lose
Toulouse’s recent free-running try-scoring had ignited hopes that their young side could once again capture a title they last lifted in 2010.
However, with Antoine Dupont, a specialist scrum-half, deployed at 10, they struggled to reproduce the pyrotechnics that saw them beat Racing 92 in the previous round. Springbok wing Cheslin Kolbe’s occasional bursts looked their likeliest way back into the game.
Toulouse were also undermined by basic errors.
Full-back Ramos put his side under needless pressure with one kick charged down by Gary Ringrose and a drop-out flying dead.
Gray’s reckless yellow card then left the French league leaders irreversibly undermined a minute later when McGrath was shoved over for Leinster’s second.
The decision to withdraw All Black Jerome Kaino and Joe Tekori from their back row in the second half also robbed them of momentum and experience.
What they said
Leinster coach Leo Cullen: “I think our guys showed a lot of resilience, particularly as they got close to our tryline. They’re good qualities to have in these big games.
“There was great fight for each other. You could see the players, how much it means to them.
“I thought Sean O’Brien was really exceptional today. It’s not just his performance, it’s how he leads the group.
“In the week, the way he talks. How he understands the threats the opposition pose, both sides of the ball. In terms of dominating that contact area, he’s one of the best players to have ever played the game, certainly Irish guys.”
Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton speaking to Virgin Media: “During the week I felt like I was cramming for a big exam, I haven’t trained in a few weeks so I had to fit in a lot of work during the week.
“It’s special, but we don’t play to get to finals, we play to try and win stuff.
“We saw yesterday how Saracens dominated Munster and we know how tough a side Munster are. We’ll be up against it but we’ll prepare now for the biggest battle of our careers.”
Toulouse captain Jerome Kaino: “I think our young group can take a lot of experience from that game.
“I think they were able to build on their momentum. We defended well at times, but we weren’t able to build on our momentum when we did get forward.”
Leinster: Kearney; Larmour, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe; Sexton, McGrath, Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, Fardy, O’Brien Conan.
Replacements: Tracy for Cronin (34), Deegan for Fardy (42), Fardy for Deegan (51), E Byrne for Healy (60), R Byrne for Sexton (66), Bent for Furlong (66), Doris for Ryan (78), O’Sullivan for McGrath (78), O’Loughlin for Henshaw (78), Deegan for Conan (78).
Sin-bin: Henshaw (31)
Toulouse: Ramos, Huget, Guitoune, Ahki, Kolbe; Dupont, Bezy; Castets, Mauvaka, Faumuina, Arnold, Gray, Elstadt, Tekori, Kaino.
Sin-bin: Gray (25).
Replacements: Baille for Castets (51), Van Dyk for Faumuina (51), Tolofua for Tekori (51), Faasalele for Kaino (51), Ntamack for Bezy (55), Medard for Ramos (55), Cros for Arnold (60), Marchand for Mauvaka (62).